If you had met me three years ago, you would have met a woman defeated by lack and loss and hopes that never became reality. You would have met a woman who was still mourning the life and success she thought she would have. You would have met someone who felt like the last great thing she achieved was almost ten years behind her. Failing at what you thought you would master changes you. What should have built the resilience to get up and try again made me want to crawl inside myself and disappear. Recently, I am remembering vividly what it felt like to be living a life you deem a failure in your own eyes. To be honest, practicing law not only shaped my identity, it took it over. And eventually, it swallowed it. Until all I was, was an attorney. If all else, failed, at least I was an attorney. But when THAT began to fail – I had an identity crisis! Watching other attorneys flourish and make a living in this line of work filled me with a desperate sense of inadequacy. Everyone in this field seemed to know something I did not. How were they running solo practices and still managing to keep a roof over their heads, considering my venture into private practice kept me in poverty from Day 1? How were they getting these cushy opportunities when doors kept slamming in my own face?
Feelings of inadequacy kept me from connecting with new people in my field. As far as I was concerned I had nothing to offer anyone, so why bother. I kept to the safe confines of the friendships forged in childhood and law school. I did not go out of my way to make new work friends, and at the same time, seeing the camaraderie among my colleagues from the courthouse or law school ate me alive. I did not belong. Nowhere was it more apparent than when I would venture out to social events for local lawyers and find myself wandering the room alone. Too many of these instances made me retreat further away from those that would be considered my equals but whom I had deemed were better than me because at least they did not face a foreclosure (in 2010), at least they were not driving their mom’s old car (till 2013), at least they knew what the heck they were doing with this practice of law. My thoughts ran in circles continually and defeated me before I could even try. When new law school graduates entered our field with all the hope and optimism that was already beaten out of me by unemployment, underemployment and lack, I was immediately jealous. They seemed like they had their whole lives ahead of them and were better equipped to succeed than I ever was. The last great thing I accomplished was passing the bar, and that was in 2007. Every year since then had felt like a constant battle of trying to prove that I was not as terrible an attorney as my fears would have me believe.
I cannot say my years were all bad. I did some excellent work. I helped some truly deserving clients and made my own impact here and there. But when I compared my successes to my bottom line, they did not line up to produce a life I would call a success. For so many years, it had been ingrained into me that being a lawyer meant being smart, successfully and rich. I was willing to work to be all of those things. Until my work kept proving to be less than enough. Eventually my ambition got buried deep beneath my fears of failure and success, and I comforted myself with the lie that career success did not matter as long as I was successful in other ways. I spent TEN YEARS hating what I earned (not necessarily what I did, because like I said – I made some impact in lives that will last for generations), but being too afraid to do anything about it. Every idea seemed like a failure waiting to happen. So i shrank into the life I hated, comforted myself with the love of my husband and children and buried my hopes and dreams in the sand. I avoided associations with other lawyers because their successes only testified more boldly of my failures. Conversations with loved ones about my career or chosen path always left me in bitter tears shed in private. This was NOT how my life was supposed to go. Graduate college with honors, go to law school, finish, pass the bar, find the job of my dreams and climb the ladder while finding love and marrying the man of my dreams and building our family. THAT was the plan. Everything that deviated was a constant reminder of my failure.
One day, my husband pushed me and kept pushing me until my comfort zone was a distant memory. I stopped believing or caring whether people were judging me by my lack of career success and decided to pivot my life. Stop getting up every day for a job you hate because it doesn’t pay you, FIND ONE THAT PAYS YOU! It did not matter what job it was. As long as they would have me and they would pay me reasonably for my time. After six months of effort and calling fear a liar, applying for jobs even when I did not feel qualified, going on interviews (first ones in 10 years) even though I felt terrified and ill-prepared, I got a job. Not just a job. A job that pays me in a day what I didn’t earn in a week as a solo attorney. A job that gave me supervisors and colleagues who care about me as a person as well as my work product. A job that finally healed the sense of failure and brokenness that I had been carrying regarding my career for almost 11 years. I love my job. I love the opportunity I have to do it. I love my direct supervisor and I genuinely enjoy the company that employs me. My life was a failure in my eyes because I did not have a job. Getting one, a good one with an ethical, professional and trustworthy employer has healed me in ways that practicing law never did.
These are my confessions.
Thanks to the hardship that comes with practicing law, I am being forced once again to examine my heart at it relates to the success of other attorneys. The truth is a part of me is angry. I am angry at the colleagues who saw me struggling and took advantage of me (shout out to my first commercial landlord). I am angry at the ones who made jokes about who I was and where I worked (being humiliated in court was not fun). I am angry at the people who saw my resume and decided sight unseen that Omowunmi was just too ‘ethnic” of a name for their company. I am angry but it will pass; it always does.
Truth is, I am also grateful. I am grateful to the clients who hired me based off one meetings and met their obligations to pay me. I’m grateful for the countless numbers of people who now have legal status in this country thanks in small part to my role in their story. I am grateful for the countless numbers of juveniles who have avoided a life altering criminal record because they took my advise, both legal and informal, and changed their entire lives. I am grateful for the mentees who entrusted me with their journeys because “she’s a lawyer” and have gone on to graduate college, medical schools and law school and are thriving as productive members of society. I am grateful for everyone who tried to introduce me to one form of employment or another when they heard I was struggling, and I am ESPECIALLY grateful to the colleagues who have become family who sat with me as I poured over new cases, making sure I understood the nuances and could get the best results for my clients. Thank you! I cannot thank you enough.
My life was a failure in my eyes because of the shame of lack and poverty. But God has redeemed my failures and I am happy to report that success feels more familiar than ever. I will not go back. Sometimes you have to fail into the life of your dreams. Because honestly, without my past failures – I would never have had the courage the change my mind and pursue the life of my dreams.
These are my confessions.